The United States is experiencing a significant increase in drug overdose deaths, particularly among Black and Indigenous populations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released a new analysis that shows fatal overdoses in Blacks rose by 44% in 2020, compared to the previous year.
American Indians and Alaska Natives saw an almost equal increase in drug overdose deaths — a combined 39% increase over the prior year.
The rapid rise in deaths of Black and Indigenous people was far greater than that seen among whites during the same period. This group saw a 22% increase in drug overdoses year-over-year in 2020.
Reports reveal stark income and age disparities.
These overdose deaths are not explained entirely by substance use patterns, according to the CDC report.
Dr. Debra Houry, the acting principal deputy director at CDC, stated that there was a disproportionate rise in overdose deaths among Blacks and American Indian/Alaska Natives.
In 2020, over 91,000 people died from drug overdoses, an increase of 30% in comparison to the previous year.
White people were among the most overdosed in that year, with more than 26,000 deaths. However, the death rate was highest for Indigenous and Black people. This trend has been confirmed in other studies.
The CDC analysis revealed that these disparities were even more severe among certain age groups.
Mbabazi Karisa, the chief author of the report by the CDC, spoke to reporters during a briefing. He said that “younger Black people aged 15-24 years had the greatest increase in overdose deaths – 86%.”
The death rate for Black men aged 65 years and over was seven times higher than that of white men of the same age.
According to the report, the highest overdose deaths occurred in counties with high-income inequality, particularly among ethnic and racial minorities.
Kariisa stated that overdose death rates among Blacks were twice as high in counties with high-income inequality than those of lower-income counties.
Income inequality has a greater impact on minorities’ lives, she said. “This can lead to a lack of stable housing and reliable transportation, which makes it more difficult for people to access treatment and other support services.
There is no evidence that treatment was given to many of the people who have died.
Kariisa and her coworkers also discovered that substance abusers who were members of racial or ethnic minority groups were less likely to have access to treatment.
Kariisa stated that Blacks had a lower percentage of substance abusers with 1 in 12 evidence.
She said that only one in ten American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Hispanics had ever received substance abuse treatment. “In reality, the majority of people who overdosed died had no evidence that they had received substance abuse treatment before their death,” she said.
Houry said that the dramatic increase in overdose deaths is due to illicitly manufactured Fentanyl. Houry was referring to fentanyl contamination in illegal drugs.
She said that addressing fentanyl’s drug supply and historical socioeconomic inequalities will be the key to reducing these disparities.
Houry stressed the importance of having more access to substance abuse treatment services. He also recommended harm reduction measures such as naloxone, which can reverse an overdose and fentanyl testing strips that allow users to determine if the drug they are using contains fentanyl.
She stated that some prevention strategies will be more effective immediately, while others will have long-term and lasting effects.
Drugs have a lasting effect on so many people regardless of their age, skin tone, or gender. Families are torn apart and lives are lost. Have any of you ever visited a state-funded mental hospital? They always look terrible and the fact is that mental health is so overlooked in the United States and those suffering from addiction or mental illness are pushed aside and many never get the help they desperately need. We can’t keep allowing this to happen because having an addiction or mental illness is something that many people can’t beat alone and the fact is, our country has the ability to help these people. With so many overdose deaths and mass shootings, it seems like the government would do something instead of twiddling its thumbs to get people some help whether it be with drug addiction or mental illness. People have to let it be known how important this matter is and we all need to stand together to help make this change happen.